Living organisms (people, animals, plants) are dependent on oxygen to live. The oxygen we breathe, scientifically referred to as O2, consist of two oxygen molecules attached together. High in Earth's atmosphere is another form of oxygen known as ozone. Ozone (O3) is made of three oxygen molecules.
Benefits of Ozone
Ozone is present in the highest parts of Earth's stratosphere, and it protects the Earth's surface from the harmful effects of the sun's ultraviolet light. Too much exposure to UV rays damages skin, causing sunburns and cancer. Without ozone's protection, Earth's temperatures would rise significantly.
During thunderstorms, electrical charges cause ozone to lose one of its molecules. This free molecule attaches itself to smog particles, causing them to break apart. Broken pollutant particles fall to the Earth along with the oxygen molecule. This is why air pollution and inversion clears during rainstorms. The clean air smell that follows a good rainstorm is the smell of Earth's air purified by ozone.
Ozone is used to purify drinking water. It removes bad tastes, and odors, and it kills e. coli in water. The Netherlands began using ozone for treating drinking water in 1893. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved the use of ozone as a water treatment solution in the United States.
Ozone found in the troposphere, or at ground level, is manmade and dangerous. Ozone pollution is caused by combustion. Combustion occurs in engines and power plants. Exhaust and emissions are released into the air as chemicals combine to generate power. These particles combine with oxygen to create harmful ozone. According to the EPA ozone pollution triggers millions of asthma attacks each year and is believed to be the cause of other major health problems including congestion, lung inflammation and throat irritation. Ground level ozone also affects trees and plant life, causing a decrease in food production, and natural habitats for animals. Nutrient cycles and water quality are affected by ozone pollution, tampering with delicate ecosystems and quality of life.
The EPA has set national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for ozone pollutants. With these standards, the EPA has created campaigns to encourage industrial facilities, car owners and electric utilities to become more aware of the dangers of air pollution. Funding is used to provide health protections especially for asthmatics, children and the elderly, populations that are most sensitive to ozone pollution.
Ozone generators are designed to neutralize odors in homes, cars, office buildings, hotels and other enclosed places. Generators disperse ozone that penetrates every nook and cranny including carpets, walls, window treatments and light fixtures. Unlike air purifiers, ozone generators kill bacteria and other microbes that cause odors. This includes tough smells such as smoke, mildew and skunk. Despite the benefits, ozone generators come with a large health risk. The FDA does not currently regulate ozone generators. While ozone is a natural gas in earth's atmosphere, it is dangerous to breathe in large quantities. Ozone can cause shortness of breath, coughing and lung damage. In fact, even in low concentrations ozone can irritate lungs and can even be toxic. Longer exposure to ozone puts someone at risk of ozone poisoning, lung cancer, lung scarring and even death. The FDA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the EPA have each set standards for how much O3 is safe to inhale. These range between 0.05ppm. 0.10ppm. Most ozone generators output ozone in quantities several times the established safety amounts. Because of this, the EPA strongly urges against the use ozone generators.
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